The answer is yes. For at least three reasons.
First, it exposes sins and weaknesses and imperfections in me.
Second, it is not always clear which of its criticisms attach to me and the church I love.
Third, this is my son, and he is writing out of his own sorrows.
Writing this book has been hard. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that a lot of hardship went into writing this book, some of it in my own family and some of it through the pain of other PKs I connected with along the way. So many PKs carry so much pain and anger and sorrow with them. Some of them have fallen into bitterness, and others are rightly doing the hard work of trust in Jesus to help them through.
I am overwhelmingly thankful that Barnabas is in that last category. It took trust and courage to write this book. The road has been hard. And sometimes, as he says, “We need to pour out what is boiling in us.” When that happens, pressure is relieved and people get burned.
But Barnabas is not out to burn. Not me or any pastor. His aim is healing. “That is part of why I wrote this book,” he says, “to help PKs make sense of, sort through, and express those bottled-up frustrations and pains.” Frustrations built up from carrying an “anvil-like weight,” of being the most “watched”—“the best known and the least known people in the church.”
But the boiling over does burn. “I have been hard on pastors throughout this book. I have pointed out weaknesses and tendencies and failures. I have prodded and demanded and pushed them to be different, to change, to become aware.” My suggestion for the reader is that, if it gets too hot in the boiler room, you take a break from the heat and jump in the pool of chapter eight.
There is a stream of grace that runs through this book. You taste it along the way. But it becomes a pool at the end. A soothing. Barnabas is honest about his own struggles and failures. He has drunk deeply at the fountain of grace. He knows from experience the ultimate solution for all of us:
I desire to point to Jesus as the turner of hearts and the lifter of all burdens. . . . Grace, the undeserved favor of God, through Jesus, is the source of life and personhood and identity. . . . It is in the freedom of Jesus’ overwhelming love that the PK can break out of false expectations and see what it is that makes Jesus happy.
As it turns out, when the boiling is over, and the burns begin to heal, there is hope for PKs and pastors and churches.
“It’s not all bad news for PKs.” Through it all they have been unwitting, and sometimes unwilling, apprentices. They have seen—and many have benefited from—the bad and the good.
We have seen the pleasures of ministry. . . . Helping mend a broken marriage, praying with a heartbroken widow, serving the destitute man who knocks at the door . . . the close fellowship of a united church staff or . . . the deep, humbling satisfaction of seeing God use faithful ministry over time to right a sinking ship of a church.
Boiling over because of painful experiences may be unavoidable at some point, but Barnabas beckons his fellow PKs not to “wallow and bemoan them. Rather we must own what responsibilities are ours: to honor Jesus, to honor our fathers and mothers, to love and support the church, and to go about our lives not as victims but as the redeemed. Grace is here for all of us.”
And that includes the sinful and wounded pastors. “No man is adequate to be a pastor . . . That is a job no person is up for, not alone, not without profound grace. And that is the key to all this: grace.” And, of course, it is true for the wife and mother, watching, with tears, the drama play out between her son and husband, or bearing the weight of her daughter’s rejection.
And finally there is grace for the church. “The church is our family, it’s the family that God gave us, so don’t give up on it. There isn’t a better place out there to be restored.”
When I received the manuscript of this book and read it, I gave a copy to our seventeen year-old daughter. “Would you read this, and then talk to me about how I can be a better dad?” She did. It was a good talk. It’s not over. I suspect she will have ideas about that when she is 30 and I am 80. I hope she will be spared some sorrows because of her big brother’s book. Of course, most of that hangs on me. And, as we have seen, on grace. Which is why I appreciated Barnabas’s encouraging conclusion:
But now I want to express thanks. I want to say that PKs are blessed to have parents who devote their lives to serving Jesus. . . . So thank you, pastors (and spouses). You have given your lives to serving Jesus and His church , and that is a blessing.
– John Piper
I’m grateful for my dad’s honest words and consistent love and support for me throughout my entire life.
And I’m grateful that he read this foreword for the forthcoming audio book too. Keep an eye out for it.